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Honduras talks grapple with issue of Zelaya return

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Envoys for Honduras’ de facto leaders and ousted President Manuel Zelaya were still far apart on returning the leftist to power as talks to end a post-coup crisis continued on Thursday.

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya sits before a meeting with his team of representatives to the Organization of American States (OAS) inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa October 7, 2009. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

The standoff, triggered by a military coup in June that removed Zelaya, is Central America’s worst crisis in years. It has become a test for U.S. President Barack Obama after he promised a new era of engagement with Latin America.

A delegation including the head of the Organization of American States and the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America is overseeing the first days of talks that began on Wednesday.

“The OAS mission is convinced the dialogue that has begun, with direct participation from both sides, can lead to a solution to the political crisis,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno read from an OAS statement.

The delegates and Zelaya say he must be reinstated in order to end sanctions against Honduras and legitimize presidential elections set for November 29.

De facto leader Roberto Micheletti says Zelaya should stop insisting he must retake the presidency and has criticized the diplomats who support his return.

“We are very pessimistic, we don’t see any positive feeling in the position of the coup leaders,” Juan Barahona, one of three members of Zelaya’s delegation at the talks, told Reuters. “They are not considering the restitution of Zelaya.”

Peter Kent, Canada’s minister of state of foreign affairs (Americas), told Reuters that Micheletti was firmly opposed to amnesty for Zelaya.

He said he told both parties that they need to find a solution in the next couple of weeks to allow time to prepare for the election.

“We’re talking by the end of the month, we need an agreement,” he said by phone from Tegucigalpa’s airport.


In a televised meeting on Wednesday, Micheletti scolded the visiting delegates for backing Zelaya, whom he accuses of corruption and says intended to extend his term in office.

“We were left a little surprised,” said senior OAS official Victor Rico, referring to Micheletti’s tone. But “we can’t call this dialogue that just started a failure.”

U.S. Republicans have criticized Obama for supporting Zelaya’s return. The ousted leader angered Honduran business groups by befriending leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and communist Cuba.

Zelaya slipped back into Honduras two weeks ago and has taken refuge inside the Brazilian Embassy with his wife and scores of followers. Troops and police in riot gear have ringed the mission to limit pro-Zelaya demonstrations.

The president’s supporters have held small marches daily in Tegucigalpa despite the curbs on demonstrations imposed by Micheletti. He also has closed two media outlets that support Zelaya.

About 200 Zelaya supporters protested on Thursday outside the hotel where the talks are being held.

The OAS statement demanded Micheletti immediately fulfill a promise to lift the media and civil restrictions.

Foreign ministers and diplomats from Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Spain the United States and several Central American nations visited Zelaya on Wednesday in the embassy, where he sleeps on an inflatable mattress.

The envoys are due to leave Honduras later on Thursday, leaving lower-level officials to observe the negotiations.

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Frank Jack Daniel; Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Editing by Xavier Briand